Scrap production quotas, says Pat Younge

Pat Younge Pat Younge left the corporation last year

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BBC production quotas should be scrapped, according to Pat Younge.

BBC Production's former chief creative officer believes the current system - which guarantees 50% of output to in-house producers, 25% to indies, with 25% up for grabs to either in the window of creative competition (Wocc) - is 'irretrievably broken'.

Younge, who left the BBC at the end of last year, says in his blog that the model no longer works because big global broadcasters, such as ITV and Discovery, have been snapping up independent production companies.

Any independent in which a broadcaster has a 25% or greater stake does not qualify for commissions under the BBC's indie quota - only as part of the Wocc.

'For example, ITV's purchase of SoTV meant SoTV became an NQI (non qualifying indie) and so all the Graham Norton show hours went from the indie guarantee into the Wocc,' says Younge. 'The truth is the rapid pace of indie consolidation has made the Wocc less about creative competition and more about accounting.

'Given the centrality of IP [intellectual property] ownership in the new media economic model, any change to the status quo arrangements has to allow the BBC to have the same ability to generate IP as their competitors,' he considers.

Move programmes to Worldwide

His proposal is to make BBC Production - specifically in-house comedy, entertainment, drama and factual production (sport, news and children's would remain part of the BBC) - a fully-owned subsidiary of BBC Worldwide.

All existing BBC programmes would be transferred to the BBC's commercial arm, and BBC Production would be able to compete on a level playing field with the indies.

Operating as a business, it would be able to pitch ideas to other broadcasters, move to cheaper or better suited premises and pay the market rate for talent, he suggests.

Worldwide, in Younge's vision, would be able to invest in indies and produce programmes for other channels at home and abroad, while making the most of the intellectual property rights.

Younge argues that the BBC should retain its commitment to production out of London and in the nations.

Licence fee confusion

He accepts that there are pitfalls to his plan. 'BBC channels may become less distinctive - ITV and Sky would lap up BBC blue chip content like natural history and drama which audiences and advertisers love. Whitechapel and Primeval were both developed by the BBC…'

And there is always the possibility that Worldwide is privatised, he warns, putting BBC programmes into the hands of a third party.

He sees the 'biggest hurdle', though, as convincing the public that the licence fee is not funding commercial activity - something Mark Thompson highlighted when Younge presented him with his ideas in 2011.

The former DG also 'felt that the first big hit that BBC Production made for another broadcaster would unleash a wave of internal recrimination and accusation'.

Thompson may have rejected it three years ago, but Younge wants his ideas to be considered now by the BBC Trust as part of their review of content supply arrangements.

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